Tuesday, 27 January 2015

ACF NY Translation Prize to Tess Lewis!!!

Hooray for my buddy Tess Lewis, super-top-translator of the year for Austrian literature!! She's won the Austrian Cultural Forum New York's $5000-award for a translated extract from Maja Haderlap's Engel des Vergessens. I translated a short section of the novel when Haderlap won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize with it, and let me tell you it's very hard to do. Haderlap uses hunting and forestry vernacular, combined with the traditions and the feel of the Slovenian minority in the Carinithian mountains after the war. Layers and layers of language, first Austrian German, then the Slovenian hidden underneath, then the sociolects and ideolects and the jargon – a feast of fun and fury for a translator.

Tess can deal with Austrian German no problem at all, of course, having published translations by Peter Handke, Julya Rabinowich, Alois Hotschnig and others. You can read an interview she gave me in 2011 here, in which she had the following to say about Austrian writing in particular:
Austria is a gorgeous country, highly civilized and gemütlich, but you don’t need to scratch the surface very deeply to find some very dark undercurrents. I find it refreshing to read Austrian writers who engage with the ambiguities and unsavoriness under their culture’s veneer. The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to accuse them of Nestbeschmützen, but the best and most nuanced Austrian writers willing to explore these less fortunate aspects of their culture and their history do so out of a very sincere, if sometimes disappointed, love for their country.
Austrian-German is to me more playful and, as you note, more elegant than German-German. Of course you can find plenty of Austrian and German writers who disprove my theory. But in my experience as a translator Austrian-German wears its irony more lightly and its humour is subtler and more biting.
Tess picks up the prize on 24 March in New York, and the author will also be attending. I'm really pleased she's won this honour and I hope the award helps her to find a publisher for this unusual and beautifully written book. 

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